Global politics have gotten in the way of humanitarian aid when it comes to the flooding in Ukraine. Zelensky points the finger towards a deep, structural UN shortcoming.
PARIS – Humanitarian disasters often reveal political contradictions. The catastrophic floods caused by the partial destruction of the Kakhova dam on the Dnipro River, in southern Ukraine, are a case in point.
First, there is the now expected oppposition between the Ukrainian and Russian leaders' reactions. Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky – as he has done since the beginning of the war – was on the ground, among the civilians in distress, despite ongoing Russian bombardments.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, was filmed in the Kremlin talking to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accusing Ukraine of being behind the disaster. Two distinct atmospheres, two political styles.
Then there are the accusations made this week by the Ukrainian President against the United Nations. Zelensky points out one of the major contradictions of this war: the UN's withdrawal, in all but two major areas — nuclear power and grain movements.
Powerless in New York
But it's also an unfair criticism, as the UN is not an independent actor, but the sum of its member states: when they are divided, the UN becomes powerless.
A photo circulated around the world yesterday showed a UN car in Kyiv, tagged as "Useless" in large graffiti letters. Clearly, Ukrainians have decided it's time to denounce the situation.
It's true that in wars all over the world, the UN normally deploys members of its specialized agencies to help the local population. Admittedly, Ukraine is a country with infrastructure, and is less dependent on such assistance. But above all, the obstacle is political — Russian, to be precise.
Zelenskyy chairs an emergency meeting of the National Security and Defense Council on the situation at the Kakhovka Hydro-power plant, at the Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv.
Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire
Moscow's red light
Moscow is not letting the UN get involved as it should. A green light from the Security Council would be needed, and therefore, a lack of Russian veto. This absence is cruelly felt on the Russian side of the Dnipro River, where witnesses report meager rescue efforts.
Relief has become a political question. The Ukrainians are relaying calls for help from inhabitants of Russian-occupied villages on the left bank of the Dnipro, who have been left abandoned on the roofs of their flooded homes.
Ukrainian videos even show volunteers on boats rescuing civilians in the Russian zone — high-risk operations, but good for Ukrainian publicity. Kyiv went further, with Zelensky calling on international organizations to rescue "those whom the occupier has condemned to death," those left in Russian occupied territory.
This call is unlikely to be heeded, as Moscow will not let UN aid workers into its occupied zone, in the middle of its defense lines. But, at least, Ukraine will have been able to clearly point the finger at those who oppose humanitarian aid.